Readers discuss The Oklahoman's role in state's history and future
Readers of The Oklahoman talked about their daily newspaper's vital role in shaping Oklahoma and passionate hopes for the newspaper's future Tuesday during a luncheon that featured frank discussions about the financial challenges facing the newspaper.
The Oklahoman has an opportunity to become a national leader in promoting civil discourse, suggested former state House Speaker Kris Steele, who has been a community leader in promoting civil justice reform.
Houses of worship are interacting with their neighborhoods in creative new ways and people would like to read about that, said Jon Middendorf, senior pastor of the Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene.
Cultural opportunities are exploding all around Oklahoma City. The Oklahoman needs to write more about them, suggested another reader.
Soliciting ideas from about 100 readers on what issues the newsroom should focus on in 2019 was one of Kelly Dyer Fry's first acts as publisher of The Oklahoman.
Fry has been editor and vice president of news at the newspaper for a long time, but was given the additional title of publisher Tuesday morning by GateHouse Media, which purchased The Oklahoman on Oct. 1.
In a candid speech to loyal readers, Fry acknowledged knowing that many readers weren't happy that the size of the newspaper has shrunk recently, but said that change was needed to return the newspaper to profitability — a goal which has been accomplished.
"I've heard that a few of you grumbled recently that it's just too small," Fry said. "Today our community supports us at the level you see in today's paper."
That doesn't mean it always has to be this way, she said.
"I have witnessed this community move mountains. When we unite, when we stand shoulder to shoulder, we get it done — tornadoes, the bombing, we know how to work together," Fry said.
"What we make of our newspaper is up to us. I'll say it today and I'll say it repeatedly. Our strength and quality is commensurate with the level of support we get from our community."
Newspapers throughout the country have been facing financial challenges due to declining advertising revenue, which once accounted for more than 80 percent of The Oklahoman's revenues but now account for less than 50 percent.
Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, said that for more than 100 years The Oklahoman has played a vital role in recording and shaping the state's history.
Blackburn credited The Oklahoman with leading the charge for numerous positive changes, including support for construction of what is now Tinker Air Force Base and MAPS downtown redevelopment projects.
He also credited the newspaper with helping expose the Oklahoma Supreme Court bribery scandal in the 1950s and 1960s, which led to changes in how justices are selected, and with exposing the county commissioners scandal in the 1980s, which led to purchasing reforms.
"If we are to remain a vibrant community, I truly believe with all my heart that we have got to have a strong, independent vigorous newspaper that has the resources to investigate, to report, to share that message," Blackburn said. "We have to have everyone there to do their job so the rest of us in our community can do our job, which is to build a better community for our children and grandchildren."